The Frank Porter Graham Professorship in History
The Frank Porter Graham Professorship in History was established in 1991 by a series of gifts made by more than 450 friends, admirers and colleagues of the former UNC president, U.S. senator and mediator for the United Nations.
The Graham Professorship was the first million-dollar endowed chair created through the University’s Bicentennial Campaign for Carolina and was the first endowed professorship based solely in the Department of History. The private gifts totaling $666,000 were supplemented with $334,000 in state funds from the Distinguished Professors Endowment Trust Fund to create a $1 million endowed professorship.
Frank P. Graham was the last president of UNC as a single-campus institution at Chapel Hill and the first to head its multi-campus successor, serving from 1931 until 1949, when he was appointed to the U.S. Senate by Gov. W. Kerr Scott. Graham was known as a progressive educator and staunch equal rights advocate. In a 1932 letter, he told a friend: “America is in no danger from fascism, Communism or any other ism, just so long as she remains true to those principles for which the American revolution was fought –mainly freedom of opinion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and equal opportunity for all the people of this country.”
Graham was born in 1886 in Fayetteville. He received his B.A. from UNC in 1909 and attended the School of Law until 1910. After receiving his license to practice law in 1910, Graham taught English at Raleigh High School for two years. He returned to Chapel Hill in 1913, and the University appointed him as instructor of history in 1914. He soon left, however, for Columbia University, where he received an M.A. in 1916. During World War I, Graham served in the U.S. Marine Corps. He returned to the University in 1919 as director of the YMCA, and served as dean of students from 1919 to 1920. Graham left Chapel Hill again in 1922 to pursue his graduate studies. He returned in 1927, when the University appointed him a full professor.
Graham was named University president in 1930, over his repeated protests that his place was in the history classroom, not in an administrator’s office. Early in his career as president, he drafted plans for the consolidation of the three branches of the University — State College in Raleigh, the N.C. College for Women in Greensboro and the University at Chapel Hill. These plans succeeded in creating the multi-campus institution that eventually would embrace all of the four-year, publicly supported institutions of higher learning in North Carolina.
During his term as president, Graham was described simultaneously as the most-respected and the most-despised man in North Carolina. His first high profile fight came during the Great Depression when the University was losing both students and money. He toured all 100 counties of the state and raised $5.5 million in contributions, including gifts from poor farmers and textile men whose businesses were suffering financially.
In 1949, Graham, a liberal Democrat, was asked by Gov. W. Kerr Scott to accept appointment to the U.S. Senate to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Sen. J. Melville Broughton. In his first speech to the U.S. Senate, Graham said: “America and the other democracies must rely more upon the ideas of freedom and the practices of democracy than an economic and military power. The freedom and the dignity of the human being, democratic ideals and moral idealism are the ultimate weapons in the global struggle against totalitarian tyranny.”
Such liberal sentiments left him politically vulnerable, and in the senatorial race of 1950, Graham was beaten by moderate Willis Smith of Raleigh in a bitter campaign marked by last-minute racist overtones.
Graham’s public service career included appointments to national posts by several presidents. Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, he served on consumer, economic security, educational, social security, labor and defense mediation committees and boards. President Harry Truman appointed him defense manpower administrator for the Department of Labor in 1951. He was named a United Nations mediator and spent several years working for a peaceful solution to the border dispute between India and Pakistan.
Graham was married to the former Marian Drane, a teacher and daughter of an Episcopal rector. Marian Graham died in 1967, and Frank Graham died in 1972.
Frank Porter Graham Professor
1999-2014: Christopher Browning